Letter from Belize no. 75

3rd September 2018

I have to be honest — it can be hard in paradise. I struggle with the heat and humidity at this time of year, although when I compare our temperatures with those of Texas, say, or Arizona, I realize that it is not so much the heat as the humidity. As you know humidity can be very stultifying and draining and I find if I don’t keep myself focused on a specific project to work towards I can slide into all sorts of negative thinking.

So what to do? Well with the Retreat now in its 9th year, can you believe it, the garden has reached the stage of needing revamping and repairing and replanting and replenishing (just like us in fact) rather than creating new areas. The stone garden has been looking so tired and sad for some time now. It was lovely when it was first created back in 2012.

Our original reason for creating it was that nothing much grew there and our gardener at the time commented on how the stones grew whenever it rained. It certainly appears that way because of how the stones reveal themselves as the topsoil washes away. So, we thought, OK if nothing else will grow then let’s “grow” stones. Trouble is that with the constant dropping of leaves from the trees above and the weathering of the stones it had by this year become very discoloured and you could no longer pick out the design. The plantain trees there had finally given up the ghost and had been replaced with a little ferny leafy plant which was ok but did not flourish in that position. So this took me back to our original idea of “growing” stones. Fill in those spaces with stones — yes but then it looks a bit bleak. Now it happened that at the same time I had asked Charlie, who is our present gardener/handy man with loads of ideas and varied experience, to make a prototype cement bowl for a different project. Well the sample was so lovely we had him make 2 more to go into the stone garden and filled them with water. Then there is the question of what to stand them on — ah yes, what about those wheel barrow wheels no longer used? Perfect. The garden looks great and the birds and the dogs already love the readily available water.

So the reason for all this degree of detail about a mere garden face-lift? It’s just that I love how, if you follow the flow of ideas and trust the process, something that starts as one thing (the need to get out of a humidity induced slump) leads to finally tackling a much neglected task (the worn out stone garden) and having it lead to creating something quite unexpected (a Zen-like stone garden which looks beautiful, provides a drinking place for birds and dogs, has drawn out of Charlie a skill he didn’t know he had and has kept peace in the home). That is how life can be if we would just allow it — trust the process. That is what my tutor at art school used to say. If we have in mind an idea of what the end result should be like we start interfering, playing at being God and trying to manipulate people and situations to behave as we think is “right” and really in the end what do we know? There is that expression, Let go and Let God. It’s a good one.

So, the other slump avoiding project has been to finish the garden tree trail which we started last year. I started out with grand ideas of having a trail all the way through the forest — about 25 acres of it as yet unexplored. With our friend Christina and Ernesto who was working here a the time we started whacking our way through forest that at first was not too dense and marking trees that any of us could identify. Well gradually the undergrowth got thicker and thicker and at the point that Ernesto, who was boldly leading the way with his machete to clear a path, leapt back at the sight of a huge rattle snake I stopped to reconsider and said, “You know what? With there being a different species of tree every couple of feet, I think we could confine this to the already cleared area of the forest where the Maya mounds are”. A much more sensible plan we thought but after becoming completely befuddled with so many trees, so few of which we actually could positively identify I said, “You know what? There are loads of trees in the garden immediately around the house. I think we could have a very good tree trail in that area”. And that is exactly what we have done. Trusting the process you see although an encounter with a rattlesnake did not take much persuasion. We could not have accomplished this without the help of the team at Shipstern Conservation area across the bay at Sartenja. When I contacted them last year to ask if they would help confirming our identification they immediately responded by sending to our rescue Swiss based botanist Henry Martinez who was training local Belizeans Ermilio and Eduard.

Here they are in the forest with Christina

After returning to Switzerland clutching our list of trees Henry meticulously edited it, not allowing us to include any that he could not positively identify, correcting our use of capitals, italics etc and confirming common names in English, Spanish and Maya and has given us a list of 21 trees that we can be absolutely sure of — well one of them is at 95% until I can get a photo of the flowers. We have now numbered them with little wooden plaques relating to the list of all the names and in addition have an extended list which shows photos of leaves, fruits, flowers. Voila. We have the local garden club coming next month to walk the walk.

18. (left)
Byrsonima crassifolia (L.) Kunth
English: crabboo
Spanish: nance, nanci
Maya: chi, sacpan

5. (centre)
Guettarda combsii Urb.
English: glassywood
Spanish: arepa, verde lucero
Maya: tastab

3. (on the far right)
Piscidia piscipula (L.) Sarg.
English: dogwood, wormwood
Spanish: habim, jabin
Maya: tiaxib

In addition I have added to the list the traditional medicinal uses of the trees where I can accurately cross-reference the tree names to Rainforest Remedies by Rosita Arvigo and Michael Balick.

So I have learned a lot from that. To keep positive by keeping creative — and to sit closer to the fan when I am pouring gallons of perspiration from every pore in my body. As usual the climate all over the world is doing strange things but at least England had a summer and Cape Town had some rain so it can’t all be bad.

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Printed from https://gatewayretreatbelize.org — Letter from Belize no. 75.